Entrepreneurs and small to medium enterprises (SMEs) are very aware of the importance and value of brands, but often the brand is not at, or even near, the top of their agenda. This is understandable because some of the most valuable commodities are usually time and human resource. What precious time there is has to be directed at operational, production, sales, finance and many other pressing issues. Bearing this in mind, let’s look at just five of the most important points – and potentially serious pitfalls to be avoided.
- Plan the brand from the start – I know it’s tough with all the other things on the go, but on all your action lists add ‘the brand’ as a point of consideration. Remember that all those other things you are doing will affect your brand and its values. The last thing you want is to have to make significant changes to your brand down the line after investing a lot of time and effort. You will almost certainly be creating business, financial and production plans – just spend a short time on brand planning.
- Be clear on the brand offer and proposition – can you tell a potential customer what your brand offers them, why they should buy from you and what benefits they will enjoy – in a couple of sentences? Understand what your brand values are: if key strengths are, say, customer service or product innovation, be clear in your offer. You must focus on protecting those values because if you don’t, then the core of your brand is at risk. If you are clear and concise in your own mind, however, then you can communicate the offer clearly to others – your staff, colleagues, representatives, customers and the world at large.
- Look forward – imagine where your brand may be some years into the future. Make sure you have no baggage now that may be a handicap. A common pitfall is lack of vision with the brand name. A brand may start as ‘Anderson Electricals’, but what happens further down the road when Anderson wants to sell out or leave? Will ‘Electricals’ still be relevant if the business diversifies into other areas, say furnishing or bathrooms? Businesses often find themselves developing branding on the hoof, inventing new divisions or sub-brands, or perhaps re-branding with all the associated costs and a waste of the investment in the existing brand. The brand name is an obvious point, but it is also a manifestation of the offer and values discussed above. If you are making a name for the brand in a particular field, can you use that as a springboard for where you want to be, rather than an activity that is only relevant to its time? Also consider international implications: the internet has made all businesses international; will you brand be suitable for the wider world?
- Keep it simple – this a function of much of the activity we have discussed above. If you have a plan and know where you want to be, you can keep your brand and its structure simple. This means your offer is clear, everybody knows what you stand for and there is no confusion. In many cases the brand can look after itself and all you need to do is make sure it keeps on the right rails and you protect the values. Having multiple trading arms, sub-brands and dual offers, complex brand structures and hierarchies may make sense for big multi-nationals with challenging markets, but they are terribly costly in financial and resource terms. Look at the best big brands, the ones you admire, and you will see how hard they work to try to keep the offer simple.
- Value your brand asset – many SMEs don’t realise the value of their brand until something happens to challenge it. Your brand can be a great protection for your intellectual properties. If you are first to market with a good product or service, a strong brand can prove more cost effective than expensive patents. (One relatively inexpensive action worth considering however, is registering you trademark or brand name.) After a very few successful years in business, your brand name has real value. It represents your reputation and all the hard work and investment you have put behind it. Big companies recognise this, and brand valuation has become big business. Consider some of the recent high-profile takeover battles where the major assets at stake are the brands a business owns.